During my time working on an organic dairy farm in Germany, I learned about using buffalos as alternative to normal cows. Buffalos are not commonly used for milk production in the west, but why is that ? Which of the both would be better for a small to medium dairy farm ?
In this article I want to share my perspective on this question, so I did some additional research to answer, if cows or buffalos are better for milk production.
Currently cows milk is still the standard in western civilization, with a much higher demand and a basic consumer trust as well as basis. Introducing an premium product like buffalo milk can be very lucrative, if you know how to market it and can get your hands on one or more buffalos.
The decision to start a small scale buffalo dairy farm might be just the right thing for you, depending on your local community and your possibility to process the milk to cheese or other dairy products.
So what is the difference between cows and buffalos in terms of milk production ? What are the benefits and disadvantages between the two choices ?
What is the main difference between keeping cows and buffalos ?
Cows in general are smaller in comparison to female buffalos. Additionally buffalos tend to be stronger, have a higher prevalence of horns and tend to live mostly in the wild.
Buffalos are generally harder to keep than normal cows, as they haven’t been domesticated for as long as regular cows. Their behavior might proof the be quite a challenge, or simply impossible for you to deal with, especially if you never worked with any cattle before.
Buffalos don’t have any sweat glands, this means they have to cool down by staying in the shade and covering them self with mud, doing nothing most of the day. Milking them is not as easy as with cows, as they generally tend to let you milk them in most conditions.
A Buffalo is different, it won’t let you milk her up until the right conditions are met. Besides this challenges, you can be rewarded for keeping buffalos, as their milk is a premium product.
So should you consider Buffallos as an alternative to regular cows on your small farm ? Let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of both cows and buffalos
What are the benefits of regular cows milk production
First let’s look at the advantages for keeping cows in comparison to buffalos:
- There is already an established market for cow milk in the US, in other countries like India or Asia Cows milk is less common and therefore this advantage only works in the western world.
- Machines and Practises have been adjusted to suit cows here in the west, it is much easier to find fitting equipment for dairy cows, than buffalos. This might not matter on a very small scale farm, as you are likely milking by hand.
- Similar to the first point cows are more acclimated to the use within a dairy farm, while you certainly can get buffalos used to everyday life on a farm, it will be much harder to do so
- Dairy cows are breed to yield a high amount of dairy, unlike buffalos, which will generally only give you 1/5 of the milk (Cows generally give you 20l/day; Buffalos only about 9l/day)
- Huge community around milking cows and practice of regular dairy farm, in comparison buffalo dairy farm are nearly non existent in the US and other western countries (except for Italy).
- Much less marketing work to do, as the general acceptance of cows milk benefits you greatly in selling. However if you only produce milk for yourself, and not for profit, producing Buffalo milk won’t be any more work in this respect.
But what about the other side of the coin ? What are the advantages of keeping Buffalos and not cows ?
What are the benefits of buffalo milk production
- Buffalos are more resistant to cold and extreme weather. Because of their stronger physique they will be able to withstand conditions, especially in colder weather much easier.
- Buffalos generally proof to have a higher fertility rate in comparison to normal cows breeds. This might be due to less human intervention and domestic breeding to achieve more milk production
- Buffalo milk tends to be more nutrient rich, providing you with more calories and minerals for each liter of milk.
- While Buffalos are stronger than their western siblings, they also tend to be more gentle in handling. They are quite laid back, giving them a much more desirable temperament.
- Breeding Buffalos might provide you with a much greater return of money, as they are much rarer. You can earn quite a bit breeding them for other farms
- Same goes for the milk which is considered premium in the US. If you find the demand for your locally produced grass fed Buffalo milk, you will definitely see a return of interest, as there won’t be much competition out there. However finding this customer basis might be no easy task.
Which choice would be better for a small scale hobby farm
There is no cookie cutter answer to this question, but if you are certain you can find customers for your Buffalo milk, it might be worth the effort.
In general I wouldn’t advise you to take on a buffalo dairy farm without properly evaluating your communities interest for this product.
The market in the US actually is increasing for buffalo dairy products, especially mozzarellas. On a larger scale this will however not be able to return the interest, as the increased work and decreased milk production is not sustainable in a very competitive environment.
Another consideration are hybrid breeds, which will give you some advantages of both worlds, but will come with their own challenges. These hybrids are however mostly used for meat production, as they tend to be much easier to care for in harsh conditions.
Choosing to use normal cows for dairy production will be much easier to handle, fit more in the picture of a typical small-scale farm and allow you to divers your streams of income to more than only dairy production, which proofs to be less lucrative over the last decades.
Which Buffalo breed is best for dairy farming ? There multiple breeds used to produce Buffalo milk especially in India. Some established breeds are Murrah Buffalos, Nagpuri, Nili-Ravi or Carabao. All these breeds are suited for milk production. Should you consider getting your own Buffalo try to contact other Buffalo dairy farm within America.
Difference in feeding cost between cows and buffaloes ? Buffaloes require more feed in general, at a rate about 25-35kg/day of grass and 12-15kg/day hay + 100-120l/water a day + minerals and supplement costs. In comparison an average cow only needs grass at a rate of 13-16kg/day and dry feed of 12kg/day. with a similar water requirment.